Savvy travelers know that many hotels will throw around pretty much any buzzword to get their dollars. So how about this growing trend for “natural” accommodations for travelers with special needs?
The term “natural” is pretty vague. It can refer to any product from aluminum-free deodorant to unsweetened granola. But if you suffer from allergies, respiratory problems or chemical sensitivity, going natural with your lodgings might be something to consider.
Your health can be adversely affected by cleaning products, mold spores, dust, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), stale cigarette smoke, and a number of other irritants and toxins. The good news is that some hotels are actively making changes to provide low and allergen-free rooms for sensitive guests.
A New York-based company called Pure Solutions has worked with 75 properties across the country to clean up their rooms. The process involves stripping the existing rooms of mold, dust and pollen with “high ozone shock treatments,” cleaning carpets and draperies, applying a “bacteria static barrier” to all surfaces, adding air purifiers, and replacing the sheets and blankets with mold and spore-proof bedding.
The company claims that your lungs hold up to one cubic liter of air, which can have up to 15 million small particles of mold, bacteria, cleaning agents and pollen. Independent testing by the State University of New York at Buffalo has shown that after a thorough cleaning of a hotel room by the company, the number of particles can be reduced from 9 million to as low as 150,000.
At last count, more than 30 properties have employed Pure Solutions to provide guests with allergy-friendly accommodation. Major brands include Marriott, Sheraton, the Mandarin Oriental Miami, Wyndham, and more. Internationally, hotels in the Caribbean and Asia have also signed on to have Pure Solutions purify their rooms. You can find a complete list of hotels that Pure Solutions has worked with at www.pureroom.com/hotels.
Other major brands are getting into the act. In 2005, the Hilton O’Hare in Chicago implemented “enviro-rooms,” created by Environmental Technology Solutions. Rooms were stripped down, including carpets, drapes, wallpaper and bedding, and completely remodeled to reduce mites, spores and VOCs. The renovated rooms feature hardwood flooring, breathable, non-vinyl wallpaper, and high-powered air purifiers. The cleaning products, shampoos, soaps and lotions are fragrance and chemical free, and the bedding is made of all-natural cotton. Rates for these enviro-rooms are higher than standard rooms, and rooms must be requested in advance. 800-445-8667, www.hilton.com
At the Kimpton Hotel chain, the environmentally friendly measures implemented Hotel Triton in San Francisco were such a success that they were rolled out to all Kimpton properties. All of the rooms are cleaned with products such as H2O Orange Two, Sierra Environmental Technologies and Eco Labs Green Seals. While these products are not necessarily fragrance-free for highly sensitive guests, they use all-natural ingredients and do not release carcinogens or toxins. 800-546-7866, www.kimptonhotels.com
The Natural Place in Deerfield Beach, Florida is an eco-friendly, chemical-free hotel caters specifically to guest who suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). This condition has not been recognized by the American Medical Association, but sufferers will tell you that they can experience a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, irritability, depression and tension. These symptoms can be cause by exposure to toxic substances even in what’s considered to be a “safe” level for the average guest—whether it’s caused by cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoo, or soap.
The Natural Place has been completely renovated to accommodate guests who suffer from MCS, including cabinets made from wood (rather than particle board), carbon filtered water, and a grass-less backyard. The property is free of smoke, pets, chemicals, scented products, and pesticides, and uses high-tech indoor air filters. Rates are about $50-$90 a night for various sized apartments, and there are also longer-term residences available. 954-428-5438, www.thenaturalplace.com
At the Tucson Natural Bed and Breakfast in Arizona, owner Marc Haberman founded the four-room lodge about 13 years ago based on his own philosophies of healthful and eco-friendly living. In order to accommodate chemically sensitive or eco-friendly guests, he uses only chemical-free cleaning supplies and keeps a strict no-smoking, no-pets and no-shoes policy. Tucson Natural also provides healthful, mostly vegetarian breakfasts, and can cater to vegan, organic and other special dietary needs. Rates are about $85-$95 a night. 888-295-8500; www.tucsonnatural.com
If you’re staying in a standard room at one of these hotels, you could still be in luck. It means that they probably have a supply of chemical-free items like cotton sheets, foam pillows and fragrance-free beauty products that you can simply request at the front desk.
If you’re in a standard hotel that doesn’t have any chemical-free or allergy-friendly rooms, there are still some steps you can take to protect your health. Most hotels have foam pillows available. Check your closet first, and if there are none, call the front desk to have one brought up. You might also try calling ahead to ask that they change the air conditioning filter before you arrive, and request that they not use scented air fresheners during your stay.
If breathing in second-hand smoke is an irritant, visit www.smoke-freehotels.com for a list of smoke-free accommodations around the world.
Finally, you know your needs best, so in case you aren’t headed to a hotel with natural alternatives, pack your own allergy-friendly pillow covers and fragrance-free shampoo and soap.
By Sarika Chawla with Carly Goldsmith
Learn more about health and fitness on your travels. Check out the Health & Fitness section.
Learn more about traveling green and making a difference in your travel adventures. Visit the Responsible Travel section.